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Icing the Chocolate King

7:26 am in Uncategorized by Deena Stryker

Editor’s Note: Discuss Deena Stryker’s Lunch With Fellini, Dinner With Fidel on August 2nd at the FDL Book Salon.

Petro Poroshenko in a suit and tie

Deena Stryker helps us unravel Time’s attempt to defend Poroshenko’s violent actions in Ukraine.

As the world anxiously awaits the outcome of Ukraine’s overtures to its rebellious Southeastern regions, in its June 23 issue Time magazine presents Petro Poroshenko as “Man in the Middle.” In order to justify that title, it is forced to go through extraordinary contortions between the facts and Washington’s versions thereof.

It starts by asserting that when Poroshenko met Vladimir Putin at the D-Day commemoration in France, he had to ‘control his temper’ because three months earlier Russia had ‘taken over’ Crimea. In reality, Russia accepted the results of a popular referendum in Crimea and welcomed that region back where it had been except for the last sixty years of modern history. The Crimean peninsula has been home to the Russian Black Sea fleet since the late eighteenth century, and is inhabited mainly by ethnic Russians. In a magnanimous gesture toward the land in which he grew up, Khruschev gave it to Ukraine in 1954, but once the Soviet Union was dissolved, that created a potentially awkward situation. Never mind, for Time and the rest of the MSM, the referendum papered over a ‘land grab’, which President Obama declares he will never accept.

Anyway, according to Time, Poroshenko ‘gritted his teeth’ during the tête-a-tête and told Putin he would get Crimea back eventually. But then it becomes clear that what Time reported as fact, was actually second hand information: “Poroshenko recounted his meeting with Putin a few days later during an interview with Time in his office in Kiev.  He wouldn’t say how Putin had responded, but insisted the President’s response was of little importance to him. ‘To be honest’, he told Time, ‘I’m not interested in what citizen Putin thinks of my state.’”

Elected following the violent overthrow of his predecessor, Poroshenko refuses to recognize the regularly elected President of one of the most powerful states on earth, and Time simply reports ‘the fact’ of this bizarre behavior without comment. However, in the following paragraph, the magazine which is to the weeklies what the New York Times is to the dailies, admits lamely: “Poroshenko does not in truth have that luxury.” The leaders of the West made it clear during those three days of meetings that he can publicly call Russia an agressor but he has to accept his powerful neighbor as a negotiating partner. All he can do is grudgingly (Time’s word) complain that Ukraine does not have Canada or Sweden for a neighbor….

Now the writer moves from Poroshenko to Putin: “Putin’s Crimean conquest has won [him] adulation at home.” (Conquest? Via a locally organized referendum?) “Signalling that he’d had his fill” (as in a Russian bear eating honey?) “for now, Putin ordered his army away from Ukraine’s border.” Not only does Time fail for the second time to mention the referendum, it again suggests — without actually saying so — that the region was annexed by military force. At the time of the referendum, military personnel from the Sevastopol Naval Base were seen about, however international observers widely confirmed the vote’s authenticity, and only a thoroughly indoctrinated fourth estate that moves seamlessly between outright lies and innuendo could express doubt about it:

“None of this” (this what?) “means Russia will leave Ukraine or any of its other neighbors alone. Pro-Russian militants” (which presumably should not be confused with Russian military), “are still fighting Ukrainian troops in Eastern Ukraine, with new fighters pouring in from across the border.” Notice how Time refers to ‘new fighters,’ not ‘Russian troops.’ And even though the phrase ‘pouring in’ more correctly suggests volunteers, it can also — and more ominously – suggest an unstoppable invasion…. Indeed: “The Crimean peninsula is still, in Russia’s eyes, a legal part of Russia.” (still?) “And Putin still has the permission of his legislature to invade Ukraine whenever he sees fit.”

In a surprising lapse of style, the article continues without identifying the subject as Poroshenko: “It is no longer a question of Ukraine’s security,” he says, insisting that Russia is a threat not only to Ukraine but also to the global balance of power. (Russia: a country whose president he calls mister and whose opinions leave him indifferent…..). Clashing with his usual diplomatic style, Poroshenko’s declaration: “I want you to understand that Ukrainian soldiers are fighting today for peace in the region, peace in Europe and peace in the world” — has to be straight out of Washington’s handbook.

And yet, after all that anti-Russian rhetoric, the rules of the craft oblige the article’s (anonymous, according to Times tradition) staff writer to confess: “The Ukrainian military did not wait long after Poroshenko’s election before attacking the rebels with a ferocity it had avoided during the presidential race.” (In the misguided hope the Eastern Ukrainians would welcome back Neo-Nazi rulers.) After describing a bloody assault by helicopter gundships and planes as if it were referring to a game, or a film, Time tells us this was “a high risk ‘gamble’:” the rebels’ hope and Ukraine’s fear was that the Russian military would back up the militants. That didn’t happen and Poroshenko believes the assault helped the Kremlin see reason:

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Of Governments and Mobs

9:56 am in Uncategorized by Deena Stryker

As the Europeans dither over what sanctions they could apply to Russia that would not hurt them more, a two-pronged question: In an age of growing mass literacy and electronic communication, what kinds of governments stand the best chance of being effective — and hence, durable — and is the expression ‘mob rule’ justified?

 Flag held over burning tires at Euromaidan

Some thoughts on “mob rule.”

The Western press has had a field day since the Sochi Olympics, depicting the Russian President as a megalo-maniac jock whose word is law, while complaining in the same breath that the American President cannot get anything done. Given the unprecedented dangers the world has concocted for itself, it would seem that any sane, rational person would be more interested in how the presidents of nuclear armed nations use their power, than in how much power they have.

Americans are told that leaders must be ‘democratically elected,’ with ‘checks and balances’ on their power.  Yet given the myriad ways big business has to make Presidents do its bidding, checks and balances is now but a pious invocation: real power lies not with elected officials, but with their financiers.

How else to explain that President Obama admits to ordering the assassination of American citizens, while allowing purveyors of consumer goods to learn our most intimate wants and needs? Or the fact that though he’s a professor of constitutional law, he disregards the laws that bar him from supporting rulers who gain power by force — as in Egypt or Ukraine.

And yet I’m sure there are days when Obama envies Putin his legislators’ obedience:

“I need a vote on the possible use of force in Ukraine.”

“Done.”

Personally, I prefer a president who easily gets an authorization to use force because his legislators are well-educated and know what’s happening in the larger world, but only uses that authorization as a real last resort, to one who uses force first and justifies it to a largely ignorant Congress later — or not.  I’d rather have a president who offers to negotiate with the European Union and the U.S. over the Ukraine (as Putin did early on), than one who sends his minions to deliver cookies and CIA arms to achieve what is commonly referred to as ‘mob rule’ — except when they are ‘our’ mob.

The term ‘mob rule’ has been in wide use, I believe, since shortly after the Constitution was adopted, inspired by the storming of the Bastille during the contemporaneous French Revolution, and reinforced a century and a half later by newsreels of the storming of the Winter Palace during the 1917 Russian Revolution. The American system of ‘checks and balances’ has been so successfully contrasted to the idea of wild-eyed club-wielding men destroying fine furniture that the press freely associates demonstrations with ‘mob rule,’ invariably opposing them to the ‘democratic’ way of achieving change through the ballot box. It mindlessly parrots the vocabulary used by the political class, especially the derogatory expressions with which it designates those over whom power weighs most heavily.

This leads to the two issues, which in fact is really one: the relationship of power to the people — or the other way around. The most significant element in any discussion of  power today is the exponentially growing number of people on the planet, which makes it almost impossible for any regime to govern satisfactorily. Populations now have to be ‘managed;’ and the more they resist being managed, the tighter the controlling screws are turned, via high-tech bureaucracies, militarily-armed police and spying on a scale never seen before. This could be called the Rousseau aspect of governance, that of bringing man from a ‘state of nature’ to ‘civilization,’ and it is sometimes accused of leading to totalitarianism.

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Pusillanimous Europe

1:22 pm in Uncategorized by Deena Stryker

It’s hard to know which is worse: a Europe that is still caught in a Cold war stance between the bear and the eagle, or a Europe that allows itself to drift into Fascism, as if World War II had never happened.  Notwithstanding the strength of its economy, Europe is in this position because it never took its place among the other four Eurasian giants: Russia, India, China and the Muslim world, preferring a less challenging role as Washington’s junior partner.

Catherine Ashton’s lack of surprise and horror upon hearing that the government she helped put in place had hired snipers to fire upon both protesters and police reveals the true nature of the West’s campaign to detach Ukraine from Russia: F. William Engdhal’s “Full Spectrum Dominance” is not just about ruling the world; it’s about adopting fascist methods to do so.

During the Cold War, Europe was cowed into supporting the United States by constant warnings of Soviet tanks about rolling across the Danubian plain- or at the very least Europe’s ‘Finlandization’: a peaceful takeover by economic means.  After the fall of the Soviet Union, the EU breathed a sigh of relief and signed up for Russian gas.  Now it has to choose between being warm and becoming part of real war Fascism.

The conflict is still between the left and the right, even if the labels are not exactly the same. Ukrainian demonstrators who pulled down statues of Lenin may have been fighting yesterday’s battle, but I suspect they also reject the socialist ethos that informs many of Putin’s orientations – including the reluctance to use force in Crimea and his request for a special session of the Security Council to discuss the crisis in Ukraine.

Ukraine’s Ultra-Right Reconstructed

9:53 am in Uncategorized by Deena Stryker

The current volatile situation in Ukraine demands clarity with respect to the main forces that brought it about.  The MSM invariably dismisses any suggestion that these right-wing organizations have an unsavory past. And yet, we’re not talking about a bunch of skinheads eager for action who have taken Adolf Hitler as their inspiration; these men have kept alive a hundred year Ukrainian independence movement that allied itself with the Third Reich, with whose worldview it shared.

The new Interior Minister of the Ukrainian government is Dmytro Yarosh, leader of the Right Sector.  Here are some excerpts from a review he gave during the Maidan to Mustafa Nayyem and Oksana Kovalenko, two Ukrainian journalists (http://seansrussiablog.org/2014/02/07/interview-dmytro-yarosh-leader-right-sector/:

“I’m the founder and leader of the all-Ukrainian organization Stepan Bandera Trident since 1994, holding various positions from commander to chief inspector. Trident is like an order of knights, propagandizing Stepan Bandera’s Ukrainian nationalist ideology, promoting patriotism among Ukrainian youth, and defending the honor and dignity of the Ukrainian nation by all means available. It created Right Sector to coordinate the actions of various revolutionary groups. 

Training takes place at camps throughout Ukraine: Besides military training, we organize events aimed at the de-communization and decolonization of Ukraine.”

Do you coordinate your activities with opposition forces?

“Aside from Self Defense (Samooborona), which we formally belong to with over 1,500 people, for the most part, we have no relations with them because they don’t recognize us.”

Who was this Ukrainian hero, Stepan Bandera? Quoting from Wikipedia:

“Stepan Bandera joined Ukrainian nationalist organizations as a youth. The Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) was created in 1929 in Western Ukraine (which at the time was part of Poland).  Bandera became head of the national executive in Galicia in 1933, and expanded its network in Western Ukraine against both Poland and the Soviet Union.  He was arrested in Lviv in 1934, accused of plotting to assassinate the Polish minister of internal affairs. He was convicted of terrorism but his death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, and he was freed in 1939, either by Ukrainians, Poles] or Germans, moving to German-occupied Krakow.

In 1940, the OUN split into two factions. The Melnyk faction (OUN-M), preached a more conservative approach to nation-building, while the Bandera faction (OUN-B) supported a revolutionary approach and sought German military support. In November 1939 about 800 Ukrainian nationalists began training in German military camps, and Bandera tried twice to send directives to Lviv to prepare an uprising.

OUN-B recruited in Western Ukraine through ‘Mobile Groups’ totaling about 7,000. The intermittently close relationships between Bandera, the OUN and Nazi Germany have been described by historians as “ambivalent, tactical and opportunistic, with both sides trying to exploit the other unsuccessfully.” OUN received 2.5 million marks for subversive activities inside the USSR and Gestapo and Abwehr officials protected its followers.

With the arrival of Nazi troops in Ukraine, on June 30, 1941, Bandera and the OUN-B declared an independent Ukrainian State, stating that it would “work closely with the National-Socialist Greater Germany, under the leadership of its leader Adolf Hitler which is forming a new order in Europe and the world and is helping the Ukrainian People to free itself from Moscovite occupation.”

In 1941 relations between Nazi Germany and the OUN-B soured, Bandera and the Ukrainian president, Yaroslav Stetsko, were arrested and taken to Berlin.  The ambivalent nature of the Nazi/Bandera relationship was illustrated by the fact that after a brief say in a concen-tration camp the Ukrainians were returned to Berlin, where they organized terrorist and intelligence activities behind Soviet lines, with air-lifted arms and equipment.

Unlike competing other nationalist movements in Austria, Russia, Poland and Romania, Ukrainian nationalism saw Russians and Poles as the chief enemy, with Jews playing only a secondary role. However, under the influence of the anti-Semitic climate in Eastern and Central Europe, it claimed that the Soviet Union diverted Ukrainian discontent away from Communism by exploiting anti-Jewish sentiment. In May 1941 the Bandera leadership actively supported the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union and the western Ukraine. Under a Minority Policy it ordered: “Russians, Poles, Jews who are hostile to us must be exterminated: deport them to their own lands and destroy their intelligentsia in positions of power … Jews must be isolated, removed from government positions in order to prevent sabotage; those deemed indispensable may only work with an overseer… Jewish assimilation is not possible.” Leaflets called for the “destruction of Russians, Poles, Hungarians and Jewry”, and a militia was to “help remove the Jews and protect the population”. In 1941-1942, OUN members took part in anti-Jewish actions, convincing German intelligence that Ukrainian nationalists would opportunistically either kill Jews or help them. However, ‘token Jews’ took part in Bandera’s underground movement and according to a Berlin security report in 1942,  some, probably doctors or skilled workers, were provided with forged passports.  When Bandera was in conflict with the Germans, he urged his members to “liquidate signs of harmful foreign influence, particularly the German racist concepts and practices.” 

So much for the twentieth century.  Several upheavals later, in October 2007, the city of Lviv established the Stepan Bandera Prize and erected a statue that triggered a debate about his role. (Two previously erected statues having been sabotaged, the current one is guarded 24/7.)  In 2009 his 100th birthday was celebrated in several Ukrainian cities and a Bandera postal stamp was issued. This year, his 105th birthday was celebrated by a torchlight procession of 15,000 people in the centre of Kiev and thousands more rallied near his statue in Lviv.The march was supported by the Svoboda party and members of Yulia Timoshenko’s Fatherland party.

A region by region Ukrainian survey of attitudes towards Bandera’s OUN conducted in 2009 produced very mixed results, with ‘very positive’ ranging from 37% in Western Ukraine  to 1% in Eastern Ukraine.

Against this background, it should come as no surprise that the government concocted by Victoria Nuland should have obediently awarded six major ministries to the Banderist Svoboda Party, naming as Secretary of Security and National Defense co-founder Andriy Parubiy, whose masked Right Sector thugs battled riot police in Maidan, organized snipers and bomb throwers. In the interview quoted above, Yarosh, now Parubiy’s deputy and responsible for internal security, revealed that Right Sector members trained for the uprising for more than two years. Svoboda appointees include Oleksandr Sych, a parliamentarian best known for his attempts to ban abortions in Ukraine, including after rape, as deputy prime minister for economic affairs. Svoboda also got Education, Ecology and Agriculture while Oleh Makhnitsky was named prosecutor-general.

I will spare my readers a list of the various far-right groups that are increasingly active in Europe, but those who dismiss events in Ukraine as being on the periphery need to be aware that in response to anti-racism Mulsiim patrols, ultra-right groups in London are organizing anti-Muslim patrols, affirming Britain for the British.  Not entirely unrelatedly, a Ukrainian-born former soldier in the Israel Defense Forces led about 40 fighters, including several fellow IDF veterans — in violent clashes with government forces in the Maidan.

For those who are confused as to who is on which side of what, the key is this: globalization is being imposed by increasingly fascistic methods, cutting across what had until now been recognizably different national and religious groups.  Vladimir Putin can be counted on to resist that threat, which cost 20,000,000 Russian lives in World War II, when Bandera was on the other side.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Re the Olympics: “Do Not Trust Your Friends”

4:45 pm in Uncategorized by Deena Stryker

Russia Today (RT): With such biased Western reporting about the Sochi Olympics, never was an ancient Greek saying from the Trojan War more apropos: “Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes”, “Beware of Greeks Bearing Gifts.”

I’ve been watching Russia’s English language television channel, RT (Russia Today) for several hours a day for about a year now, and this has given me a picture of Vladimir Putin’s presidency that casual watchers miss. When you have seen dozens of interviews by American educated Russian Oxana Boyko, or French educated Georgian Sophie Schevarnadze, Americans Abby Martin and Max Keiser, or Briton’s goof-off John Brown exploring the farthest reaches of this vast country – or even the American ‘Resident’ who poses short questions to New Yorkers on the street, you realize that Russia‘s President is searching for something that is neither Western style capitalism nor Communism. That puts him on the same wave length as grassroots movements around the globe, whether we’re talking about the demonstrators in Muslim Turkey’s Taksim Square, Spain’s ‘Indignados’ or the Occupy Movement.

While taking every opportunity to reveal America’s problems at home and abroad, the ‘Voice of Russia’ seeks out movers, shakers and thinkers from around the world who have something useful to say about the possibilities of combining equity with development for humans in the throes of religious upheaval on a planet that challenges their survival as a species. American dissidents like Tom Hartmann or Peter Lavelle have been joined by Larry King, who prefaces his interviews with the slogan ‘Does the Media Abandon Us or Do We Abandon the Media?’

The sound bites that have accompanied the Sochi Winter Olympics, whether about security or the meaning of the low-level official US delegation (headed by the former head of Homeland Security, Janet Napoletano, while a U.S. warship stands ominous guard in the Black Sea over an anticipated terrorist threat), are part of an American campaign to persuade the world that alas, although the Communist Soviet Union has been succeeded by a capitalist Russia, the largest country in the world is still not an acceptable partner on the international stage because it is not a democracy but an ‘autocracy,’ ruled by a  former KGB operative, Vladimir Putin. (Never mind that President George H. W. Bush was a former head of the CIA.)

This campaign is made more difficult by RT’s message that according to a recent article in the Buenos Aires Herald is seen by 630 million people around the globe: cooperation is better than competition and confrontation. The new motto of France’s English language channel, France 24, ‘Understand the World’, is equally subversive, and both define the growing divide between official America and the rest of the planet. After a century of anti-Communism, it is almost impossible for an American politician or diplomat to see anything other than political maneuvering in Russia’s behavior, a lamentable continuation of the Cold War, when the turn to capitalism of a re-baptized Russia fails to signal its alignment with everything we represent. Washington’s antagonism toward the Soviet Union was based on its theoretic espousal of redistribution as opposed to ‘a level playing field.’ But the reasons for its current antagonism vis a vis Moscow are the same as those which drove us to war against Germany and Japan: commercial interests, which have only been heightened in a world scrambling for the last resources. And in that confrontation, resource rich Russia is seen as a threat to Washington.

Beyond that, while ‘the West’ (or ‘Global Corporatism’) seeks to maximize profits, Russia and China, harking to other traditions, see capitalism as the latest tool for achieving humanistic solutions to the problems of a post-industrial world, placing people above profits. And whether we are talking about the much-derided ‘harmonious society’ being touted in China, or Putin’s emphasis on traditional values evidenced in RT’s choice of investigations and conversations, both continue to believe that solutions require dialogue, negotiation and coopera-tion, while the now old ‘new world’ mindlessly touts naked power and confrontation.

Many Americans are prevented from understanding what is going on by a permanent background noise that goes something like this: “The ‘other side’ claims to want ‘peace,’ but it really wants to take over the world.” The dominant theme of the Cold War interpreted the slogan ‘Workers of the World, Unite’ to mean that the Soviet Union – the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ – wanted to conquer the world in the same way that Hitler did. This misapprehension is enabled by ignorance of both the fascist and socialist ideologies. Incapable of defining either political system, the American people have been taught to fear only one thing: lack of ‘freedom.’ The Nazi dictatorship having been defeated, we do not need to fear fascism: however, the Soviet Union having imploded without undergoing Western directed regime change, can still not be trusted under the name ‘Russia’ for notwithstanding elections, it is still an ‘authoritarian regime,’ meaning one in which the people are not ‘really free.’

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Reading Putin’s Tea Leaves

11:52 am in Uncategorized by Deena Stryker

Vladimir Putin

Recently a friend emailed me the link to an article by a distinguished American historian, Emanuel Wallerstein, about an interview given by Hamid Karzai to the French paper Le Monde that laid out very clearly Karzai’s position on relations with the U.S. going forward, but which the New York Times only mentioned in passing.  Among other things, it revealed that if Karzai continues to refuse to sign the Status of Forces Agreement to regulate the continued presence of American military after the official pullout, President Obama is considering the possibility that it could just as well be signed by another Afghan official! Evidently, the slide away from legality affects not only drone strikes.

Wallerstein’s comment came to me just as I was beginning a several days long effort to report — in lieu of the New York Times — on Vladimir Putin’s year-end speech to the Russian Duma and guests from business and industry.

Our pundits pour over every Presidential speech like divines reading tea leaves. But although the United States shares the planet with 200 other nations, they studiously ignore the speeches of other leaders, depriving Americans of the ability to evaluate their government’s foreign policy decisions.

Washington does not so much fear voters hearing the other side’s story, as discovering its worldview.  Americans must never know that most foreign leaders truly believe dialogue and negotiation are preferable to confrontation, an attitude that goes back to the early days of socialist thought. Whatever the failings of central planning, the belief that war is bad  is inseparable from the desire to improve the human condition. Our culture has become so twisted that we see every Other as a potential threat, to be punished if he disagrees with us. Recent events in Ukraine illustrate this attitude at its most shocking: American diplomats in the streets of Kiev warning the government that if it does not cave in to protesters’ demands to sign a trade deal with Europe, sanctions would follow!

For a century and a half the Other has been anyone concerned with equity.  Now it is purported to be religious fanaticism, however, Islamists are okay if they are pro-capitalist, as shown in the current embarrassing situation in Syria.  The conflict between the 1% and the 99% is as real today as it was when Marx and Engels wrote Das Capital; however it’s no longer about central planning versus entrepreneurship, rather it is about consumerism and the rape of the planet versus civilization.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, Yeltsin unleashed cowboy capitalism in Russia, but Putin has increasingly realized that this is a terrible system.  While supporting entrepreneurship, he defends the idea that government is the primary purveyor of human solidarity, as clearly reflected in his end of the year speech. You can read it at here.  Here are a few excerpts, starting with two basic ideas:

“Our Constitution brings together two fundamental priorities – the supreme value of rights and freedoms of citizens and a strong state, emphasizing their mutual obligation to respect and protect each other. But life does not stand still, and no constitutional process can ever be regarded as final.”  The necessary dialectic between a strong state and individual freedoms, as well as the common sense notion that constitutions need to evolve with society are diametrically opposed to the American canon in which the constitution is immutable and a strong state is seen as incompatible with individual freedoms.

Recognizing that the Russian economy is inefficient and that some technology is harmful, Putin called for a modern technical and environmental regulatory system, albeit sensitive to economic complexities. Admitting that the Russian slowdown was due less to the global economic crisis than to internal failings such as low labor productivity and corruption, he called for high quality professional education, a flexible labor market, a good investment climate and modern technology, as do routinely the Presidents of European welfare states.  (Today, Angela Merkel was sworn in for a third term and pledged to uphold the welfare state…)

Turning to education, the Russian president stressed the need for increased mobility between the members of the Russian Federation, noting that the government had raised salaries in education and healthcare in order to attract top students, but condemning exorbitant prices for student dorms. Similarly with housing construction, he called on local authorities to make more land available and lessen the time it takes to get a building permit, while warning developers who fail to begin construction on schedule that they would lose the land.

With respect to Russia’s mandatory health insurance, it should fully cover the provision of free medical assistance, but patients should be clear as to what they are entitled to free of charge.  Meanwhile the quality of social services should be improved with more efficient spending.

Putin defined the welfare state as consisting of “the mutual responsibility of the state, the business community, and every Russian citizen,” and called for  greater participation of civil society in local government.

Undoubtedly, some Americans would find this speech disturbing: the government appears to be organizing everything, to the point of putting a time frame on actions to be taken by the Duma and declaring that once a decision is taken, it should be implemented.  (Imagine Obama doing that!)  But in today’s ultra-complicated world, does the ordinary citizen really benefit from an economic and political free-for-all that allows the few to disregard the many?

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Ukraine’s Hissy Fit

8:57 am in Uncategorized by Deena Stryker

 

The country that used to be the breadbasket of Europe is a new bone of contention between the European Union and Russia. Ukraine, the land of the southern Russians (as Yugoslavia was the land of the southern Slavs), sits on Russia’s Western frontier.

According to one RT commentator, the Poles and Lithuanians are pushing Brussels to bring Ukraine into the European fold. Although they have old scores to settle, these pale in comparison to a shared desire to cock a snoot at Russia in retaliation for a historical pattern of domination.

It is difficult for Westerners to understand why any country would want to join a European Union that is currently experiencing so many problems. In fact, this is a totally irrational desire: the Orthodox former Soviet Republics, whether it be Bela Rus, Ukraine or Georgia, are obsessed with not wanting to be identified with historically backward or Communist Russia. Notwithstanding their own backwardness they want to  be considered part of the culturally superior West.  Having lived in Eastern Europe for six years when it was still part of the Soviet Empire, I can testify that it is impossible to overestimate this longing.  When I worked at the Hungarian Radio, lack of recognition that together with Poland and Czechoslovakia it was indeed part of Europe was expressed as: ‘They think we still cook meat under the saddle.’  Of all the countries of the East European block, Hungary most actively strove to play the role of bridge between East and West. Its efforts culminated in the opening of its frontier with Austria starting in May 1989 that allowed thousands of East German tourists to reach the West. A previously unthinkable act, it led to the fall of the Berlin Wall in November and the dissolution of the Soviet block.

But Bela Rus, Ukraine and Georgia have far less of a claim to a European identity than the Eastern European satellite nations. In the Middle Ages, Bela Rus, Ukraine and Russia were all part of the principality of Kiev, or Kievan Rus, which extended from the Baltic to the Black Sea. While all three countries claim Kievan Rus as their cultural heritage, today independent Bela Rus and Ukraine constitute a sort of no-man’s land that buffers their vast and powerful neighbor.  As of 2011, Ukraine was the world’s third-largest grain exporter, and according to Wikipedia, it is one of ten most attractive agricultural regions. Although regarded as a developing economy with high potential, indispensable economic and legal reforms would be more brutally implemented under Brussels tutelage than if they happened at Ukraine’s own pace.

And yet, for western Ukrainians, (as opposed to the pro-Russian eastern half), the fact that Brussels cannot afford to bring them up to speed economically is obviously less important than being part of glamorous, sophisticated Europe.  They probably feel that they are well-acquainted with hardship, but the demonstrators in Kiev should ask themselves whether they would they be happy in a European Union that is being forced to walk back its welfare state?

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What Do 1914, 1917 and 1517 Have to Do With 2014?

8:48 am in Uncategorized by Deena Stryker

Two weeks ago, an office I was calling was already having their Christmas party, so I figure it’s not too soon to be talking about 2014.

Next year’s date probably doesn’t remind most on-line readers of anything in particular, whether we’re talking about the millennial generation or the baby-boomers. But for someone who was a child during World War II, 2014 inevitably calls up 1914, when the presumptive heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire was assassinated in Sarajevo, setting off World War I. Today, we associate that city in the former Yugoslavia with the mass killing of Muslim men and boys by Serbs, as the country invented after that war fell apart.

A hundred years ago the killing of one person started a war so savage that it ended with a shared vow: “Never again!”  And yet, that senseless butchery of thousands of young men in trenches by the newly invented machine gun merely paved the way for the use of other new technologies to assassinate Jews, Gays and Communists by the millions in Hitler’s crematoria.  This was followed by the dropping of two atom bombs in Japan, the Khmer Rouge killing by starvation or assassination between one and two million people, and on and on.

As the American media focuses tirelessly on the mid-term elections that will determine whether the needle on the political spectrum moves slightly left or right, it continues to turn its back on the struggle for equity marked indelibly by the milestone that followed 1914, 1917, the date of the Russian Revolution.

In the hundred years since 1917, notwithstanding two world wars and countless “minor” wars resulting in hundreds of thousands of deaths, humanity has failed to solve the problem of equity. Coming at the height of robber baron capitalism, the Russian Revolution gave rise to capitalism’s most extreme incarnation, fascism, the alliance of state and oligarchy to squelch popular demands for economic justice. Although Russian peasants were still living under a form of feudalism, the workers and peasants in Eastern Europe were scarcely better off, and the October Revolution spread briefly to Hungary and to heavily indebted post-war Germany, allowing Hitler’s rise.

In response, resigned to the fact that World War I had not been ‘the war to end all wars’, the liberal democracies banded together to protect their interests against those of a resurgent Germany. They sided temporarily with the Soviet Union in order to achieve this (nor could they have succeeded otherwise). However, the two sides in the alliance had different aims: the capitalist world didn’t want its pursuit of wealth subservient to Germany’s, while the communist regime didn’t want Hitler to turn back the clock to the time when oligarchs ruled. Given that dichotomy, the postwar world could only lead to a full fledged standoff between two systems that competed for the allegiance of third world client states.

Several important things happened over the next fifty years: the number of client states increased as Third World countries achieved independence from their colonial masters, Eastern Europe came out from under the Soviet grip, and the Soviet Union itself broke apart, leaving Moscow to complete Peter the Great’s Westernization and achieve a major power status that went beyond ICBM’s. Almost simultaneously China reached a level of development that put it too in the running for major power status, and the two former communist allies which had for a time been enemies, realized they again shared a common goal: the defeat of financial capitalism in favor of worldwide development that would not throw the socialist baby out with the Communist bathwater.

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Sunni/Shi’a, U.S/Russia

9:01 am in Uncategorized by Deena Stryker

As sectarian violence makes headlines once again in the Middle East, the mainstream media still fails to outline its causes, which are ideological as well as religious, thereby distorting as well the increa-singly adversarial nature of the U.S./Russia relationship.

In terms of the Syrian conflict, the main reason behind the conservative Sunni Gulf monarchies’ determination to defeat an Alawite Shi’a president is that Assad’s Ba’ath Party regime is the only secular, progressive government in the Arab world. As such it is implacably opposed by Sunni regimes, not only in the name of fundamentalism, but also because of basic ideological differences.

When Iran is referred to as Syria’s main ally, it is strictly within the context of both being Shi’ite regimes. The public is allowed to forget that the mullahs came to power in Iran through revolution, in which socialist and communist forces played a role. (In a way, what is occurring in the Arab Spring is that progressives have been willing to give the Muslim Brotherhood a chance at leader-ship because of its long-standing history of social activism.)

Similarly, though it goes unnoticed due to lack of commentary by the media, the fact that Putin’s capitalism recognizes the social legacy of Com-munism, (and should therefore be described as a particular form of social democracy in which a strong president keeps oligarchs in line), probably accounts as much as oil or seaports for Russia’s support for both Iran and Syria. From regular watching of the Russian English language news channel, RT, it is obvious that although the Com-munist regime is over and done with, its suc-cessors have not thrown the baby out with the bath water. Vladimir Putin’s media outlet to the world promotes a form of capitalism that emphasis simple pleasures rather than mindless accumu-lation of ‘stuff’.

Together with the other BRICS countries, it not only condemns interference in the internal affairs of countries (a holdover from the Soviet Union), but wars of aggression across the board. As the U.S. considers five options outlined by its top military man General Dempsey, that have as much to do with Syria’s ideological orientation as with its lack of ‘democracy’, Russia continues to campaign for talks rather than an escalation of the conflict.

The same ideological inspiration can be seen in RT’s relentless coverage of America’s sorry state.